Looking for the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida? Florida Culture’s got you covered. We’ve made nine or ten visits to the oldest town in the U.S., with our annual pilgrimage taking place on a recent late June/early July weekend. Despite the heat, we always enjoy our time in St. Augustine. Our collective experience has led us to share some insider tips to help guide you on things to do in St. Augustine during your next visit.
Creepy and Spooky in St. Augustine
1. Go ghost hunting. If you’re walking around downtown St. Augustine, you’re essentially walking over dead bodies. The city has had its massive share of strife and bloodshed since its founding in 1513, and all of that violent history makes for some popular ghost hunting. Even if you’re a skeptic, you still may get some amusement out of the city’s many ghost tours tours.
Insider’s tip: Know what kind of ghost tour you want in St. Augustine. The Ripley’s Haunted Castle Tour allows you to enter the Haunted Ripley Castle, part of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. If you want history mixed with a workout, sign up for the St. Augustine Lighthouse’s Dark of the Moon Tour, which takes you up and down a vertigo-inducing staircase (219 steps each way) for an ultimately awesome view of the area. Wear comfy shoes and bring water if you choose the latter. The former lighthouse keeper and his family members are said to haunt the lighthouse. The Ghosts and Gravestones trolley tour is family-friendly for tweens, teens, and adults and will take you on a trolley to see some of the city’s most haunted places. Tour guides dress in period costumes, and you’ll get to step out and spend a few minutes at two haunted sites, such as Tolomato Cemetery. Arrive a few minutes early to check out Old Town Trolley’s new Cromwell’s Parlour of Paranormal Curiosities, set up like a dark, old-time parlor that showcases paranormal and psychic tools of the past. Book ghost tours early as they fill up quickly, or you may find yourself doing a ghost tour when it’s still light outside. It’s not quite as spooky then.
Get to Know Downtown St. Augustine
2. Check out the downtown shops and museums. No visit to St. Augustine is complete without a walk along St. George Street, which is filled with shops, restaurants, and other attractions. If you’re into shopping, then you’ve got your share of niche stores as well as tourist traps. If you are more culturally minded, there’s the Oldest Wooden School House, the Saint Photios Greek Orthodox Shrine, Potter’s Wax Museum, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, and the Ripley’s Museum, all located near or on St. George Street. One newer attraction we got to check out this year was the Medieval Torture Museum, which is pretty much what the name implies. Located on St. George Street, it’s a private collection that shows the tools and methods used in medieval times (and even by some cultures today) to torture those who have supposedly done wrong. It’s not for everyone, but we enjoyed it and thought it fit in well with St. Augustine’s dark past.
Insider’s tip: Parking can be tricky in downtown. If you can find on-street parking, do so, as that will be the best rate. Otherwise, there’s a large garage that charges a flat fee of $15. You can also find smaller lots around town that charge $10 to $15. Some attractions in downtown like Old Town Trolley Tours offer a discounted all-day parking rate provided you’re using the trolley that day.
Yet There’s Plenty to See Beyond Downtown St. Augustine
3. Go beyond downtown. Downtown St. Augustine and the main pedestrian walkway of St. George Street is where many tourists will congregate, but there’s so much to see beyond there.
Insider’s tip: Consider the following additional destinations for fun beyond the shopping around St. George Street: St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (a real workout going up the lighthouse stairs but worth it for the view), St. Augustine Alligator Farm (nature and photography lovers, don’t miss the bird rookery), Adventure Landing (great if you’re with kids and need an arcade-type experience), the Fountain of Youth, and beautiful Flagler College. Another destination we have yet to visit but that we hear is interesting is Fort Mose Historic State Park, which was a free slave settlement established in 1738 for slaves seeking freedom from the English colonies in what is now the Carolinas. There are monthly musket firing demonstrations.
One of our favorite personal destinations is free, but you’ve got to get up early: It’s a sunrise walk along St. Augustine Beach, near the pier. You’ll be surprised to see how many fellow early birds are there snapping pics of the sunrise. As a reminder, Florida’s east coast is known for its sunrises while the west coast of the state has brag-worthy beachside sunsets.
Check Out Your Lodging Options
4. Make the most of where you plan to stay. There’s no shortage of lodging choices in St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, from older or newer hotels to bed and breakfasts. Like many people, you’ll probably use Trip Advisor along with the amount of dinero in your wallet to make your choice, but consider our suggestions below as well.
Insider’s tip: There are some newer hotels right on the beach in St. Augustine Beach, including Embassy Suites. That said, there’s the charm of places like La Fiesta Ocean Inn and Suites, with friendly staff who deliver scones to your room every morning. Downtown, we hear great things about the Peace and Plenty Inn and Casa Monica Resort & Spa, the latter now owned by Marriott. Our fave non-downtown place to stay is the St. Augustine Beach KOA, which has RV, tent, and “kamping kabin” sites. Use the pool, rent a a banana bike, fish, or simply take in the calm of its pond….and you’re just five minutes from the St. Augustine Pier and about a 20-minute walk from Anastasia Island State Park, located very close to the pier.
Fill Your Belly With Food in St. Augustine
5. Eat. Much like the lodging situation, there’s no shortage of great food in America’s Oldest City.
Insider’s tip: Although there is a food tour in St. Augustine, someone suggested to us a DIY food tour. Pick out a handful of restaurants or bars that you think look yummy, and plan with your travel companions to visit each one and try an appetizer or two. Some possible ones to include that we like: Harry’s Restaurant (oreo beignets? OK!!), the Tiny Martini Bar at the said-to-be-haunted Casablanca Inn, San Sebastian Winery (its upstairs restaurant is The Cellar Upstairs), St. Augustine Distillery, and The Floridian. For something more casual, we enjoyed Burger Buckets and Carmelo’s Marketplace in the downtown area during our most recent visit. There are tons of local restaurants to choose from but if the chains are your thing, we’ve also had good experiences at a nearby IHOP and Carrabba’s located a couple miles from the downtown.
Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Spirits (the Drinking Kind, Not Ghosts)
6. Find out how wine, spirits, and chocolate are made. The San Sebastian Winery offers a tour with its Florida-made wines that mostly feature the muscadine grapes grown in Central Florida’s Clermont. San Sebastian is owned by the larger Lake Ridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont. St. Augustine Distillery makes vodka, whiskey, gin, bourbon and rum and is located in a former ice plant. Tours for both facilities are now self-guided due to COVID-19. Whetstone’s Chocolates also offers yummy tours. Just looking at their website will make your mouth water.
Insider’s tip: The best insider’s tip we can offer for these tours is to take advantage of them! Most are free (the Whetstone’s tour ranges from $6.50 for children to $8.95 for adults) and you’ll learn how wine, spirits, and chocolate are made. They’re yummy but educational, too.
Some final insider’s tips:
- Make use of Groupon or those tourist guides you’ll find scattered throughout the city. Whether you like the online option or low-tech paper options, there are savings to be had. Although some of the coupons may save only a couple of bucks, it adds up over time.
- Don’t miss Castillo de San Marcos, a 1600s fort in downtown St. Augustine that’s run by the National Park Service. It’s definitely worth a visit and has some great angles for picture-taking. In addition to your standard visit, find out when they do re-enactments of a cannon launch, complete with costumed re-enactors speaking Spanglish. San Marcos is said to be haunted, so another option is walking around the perimeter at night (the inside will be closed) and take pictures to try and capture spirits or orbs. The same recommendation holds if you’re walking the interior of San Marco during the day—if you’re into ghosts, take a few shots, and you never know what spooky images you’ll find…
- St. Augustine has two trolley tours—Old Town Trolleys and Red Train Tours. We’re a big fan of Old Town as we’ve also used it in other cities, but use whichever trolley line is convenient for you. They both are great and often offer discounts when visiting other area attractions.
- Find some of our previous St. Augustine stories here, here (the latter two stories for the Canadian publication Dreamscapes), here (about the lighthouse), and here, from our blog. Let us know if you have other St. Augustine questions that you want answered.